Chapter 7: Appropriate Use of Official Information and Resources

This chapter sets out the department's policy on appropriate use of official and personal information and on appropriate use of official resources.

Staff should contact the Conduct and Ethics Unit (conduct@dfat.gov.au) if they require clarification on the contents of this Manual or if they are uncertain about the ethical implications of a proposed course of action.

7.1 Appropriate Use of and Access to Official and Personal Information

What do I need to do?

All Staff

7.1.1 In general terms, official information is information held by the department on behalf of the Government or on behalf of those who use the services of the department. APS employees, LES employees and contractors must at all times use official information (including personal information of individuals which is held by the department) appropriately. They must protect against, and not make, unauthorised disclosures of official information. Official information (including personal information of individuals which is held by the department) should only be used by, accessed by or made available to staff who have a legitimate need to know in order to fulfil their duties.

7.1.2 Inappropriate use of official information (including careless handling and poor security practice, unauthorised disclosure and access without a legitimate need to know) may compromise security, commercial interests or privacy of individuals. It may also compromise the department's reputation. Making unauthorised disclosure of official information or "leaking" in particular could affect the department's access to sources of political and economic intelligence. Leaking is not whistleblowing. The department recognises the legitimacy of whistleblowing (i.e. the disclosure of information relating to alleged misconduct in the department to authorised persons), and its whistleblowing policy is set out in section 10.2 of this Manual.

7.1.3 Inappropriate use of official information (including careless handling and poor security practice, unauthorised disclosure and access without a legitimate need to know) may constitute a breach of relevant Codes of Conduct and Australian law.

7.1.4 The APS Code of Conduct and the standard LES Code of Conduct require APS employees and LES employees to behave honestly and with integrity, to act with care and diligence and to comply with applicable Australian laws in connection with their employment.  Contractors must behave similarly in accordance with provisions in their contracts.

7.1.5 It is an offence under section 70(1) of the Crimes Act 1914 for "Commonwealth officers" (which for the purposes of section 70 includes APS employees, LES employees and contractors) to publish or communicate without authorisation official information which comes to their knowledge or possession by virtue of employment or engagement with the department. (Section 70(2) of the Crimes Act 1914 applies similarly to former APS employees, LES employees and contractors see section 5.4.7 of this Manual.) Inappropriate access or use of personal information (including passport application data, consular records, employee records or any other information held by the department identifying information about an individual) may constitute a breach of the Privacy Act 1988.

7.1.6 APS employees, LES employees and contractors must comply with the department's policies in relation to the protection of official information. For APS employees and appropriately cleared LES employees and contractors, this includes the department's Security Instructions (located on Satin High) which provide definitive guidance on the appropriate use of official information in particular chapter 5.14 which relates to unauthorised disclosures of official information, and chapter 9 which covers the protection of classified information. APS employees, LES employees and contractors must also comply with guidance in Administrative Circular P0920 Personal Information: Obligations under the Privacy Act 1988

Case Study — Appropriate Access to Personal Information

In my work, I have access to personal information about members of the public. On occasions, I have been curious about friends of mine and looked up their records just to see what's on their files. Is it OK to do this if I don't disclose the information to anyone?

No. Unless you have a direct need to access the information to perform your duties, you should not do so. Even if you do not disclose the information to others, inappropriate access to personal information (including passport application data, consular records, employee records or any other information held by the department identifying information about an individual) may compromise the privacy of individuals and may constitute a breach of both the Privacy Act 1988. The department may investigate this type of inappropriate access to personal information as a possible breach of the APS or LES Code of Conduct.

The Media and Members of the Australian Parliament

7.1.7 Staff must take particular care when receiving requests for information from the media and from members of the Australian Parliament who are not Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries. Administrative Circular P1077 – Engaging with the Media sets out the department’s procedures for responding to requests for information from the media. Administrative Circular P1131 – Departmental Services to Federal Parliamentarians sets out the department’s procedures for responding to requests for information and briefing from federal parliamentarians.

7.1.8 Further guidance on the responsibilities of APS employees in relation to the disclosure of official information, particularly when dealing with non-Government members of the Parliament is provided in the APSC's Circular 2009/4: Disclosure of Official Information.

7.2 Appropriate Use of Official Resources

What do I need to do?

All Staff

7.2.1 Official resources are resources owned or controlled by the Commonwealth. They may include money or money-like resources (such as frequent flyer points and cab charges), tangible goods (such as furniture or computer equipment), intangible goods (such as software), or services derived from those tangible or intangible goods (such as e-mail or internet).

Case Study — Appropriate Use of I.T.

Due to my official responsibilities at DFAT, I am issued with a laptop. My daughter is currently at University and needs a laptop to complete her assignments. Should I let her use it?

No. Under the APS Code of Conduct, an employee must use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner. Similar provisions exist in the LES Code of Conduct. As the laptop has been provided strictly for official use, sharing it with your daughter would be considered as an inappropriate use of departmental resources. By allowing your daughter to use the laptop, you could also be in breach of the department's security policy and could expose the department's IT resources to computer viruses.

7.2.2 Official resources are made available to staff for official use. While the department accepts modest private use of a very limited number of official resources (such as using e-mail or the telephone at work to contact household members or manage carer responsibilities, or using the internet at work to pay bills), APS employees, LES employees and contractors must exercise judgment and caution, and must comply with relevant legislation and departmental policies, in their use of official resources. In particular, they must comply with the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) and the department's Financial Management Manual, which govern the appropriate use of Commonwealth resources (money and public property) in the department. Staff must also act honestly and with integrity, and must comply with relevant departmental policies, in making legitimate personal claims to official resources, for example in relation to leave and allowances.

Case Study — Appropriate Use of Allowances

I have recently been on a two-week work trip. While I was away I was provided with breakfast at three of the functions I attended in my official capacity. Can I still claim my TA for breakfast in my hotel?

No. Staff are not entitled to the corresponding part of the meals component of travelling allowance (TA) if any element is provided or paid for by any entity while the staff member is acting in an official capacity. Under the APS Code of Conduct all employees are required to use Commonwealth resources appropriately. Similar provisions exist in the LES Code of Conduct.

When travelling domestically, employees are required to complete a Domestic Travel Finalisation Document in the Purchasing and Travel Workflow System (PTWS) which requires you to declare accommodation and/or meals provided. When travelling internationally, employees are required to complete the declaration in the Overseas Travel Acquittal Diary.

7.2.3 Misuse of official resources may constitute fraud against the Commonwealth. APS employees and contractors who commit fraud against the Commonwealth may be guilty of an offence under the Crimes Act 1914. LES employees who commit fraud against the Commonwealth may be guilty of an offence under the relevant local law. Section 9.3 of this Manual provides further advice on fraud.

7.2.4 Misuse of official resources may also constitute a breach of relevant Codes of Conduct. The APS Code of Conduct and the standard LES Code of Conduct require APS employees and LES employees to behave honestly and with integrity in connection with their employment, to use official resources in a proper manner and not to make improper use of their duties, status, power or authority to gain or seek to gain a benefit or advantage for themselves or others.  Contractors must behave similarly in accordance with provisions of their contracts.

Case Study — Appropriate Use of Charge Cards

I have been invited to an official Government dinner. Can I use a departmental cab charge or credit card to pay for a taxi?

Yes. In most circumstances you can use DFAT cabcharges, TAXI eTICKETS or credit cards (including cabcharge cards) to attend official work functions. However, before you use a cabcharge or TAXI eTICKETS, it must be approved by a delegate.

Cabcharges and TAXI eTICKETS are accountable documents and are normally kept by the divisional or budget coordinator. Permission to use cabcharge vouchers or TAXI eTICKETS must be sought to ensure public money is being spent correctly.

All holders of departmental credit and cabcharge cards must sign an undertaking acknowledging the terms and agreements governing the use of the credit card. One of these terms and conditions is that the card not be used for private purchases. Chapter 7 of The Finance Management Manual (FMM) provides further guidance. If the cabcharge were to be used for private purchases, this may constitute a breach of the APS Code of Conduct, as an APS employee must use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner.

Case Study — Use of Department-Licenced Software at Home

Occasionally, I do unclassified work at home on my computer. Can I use department-licenced software on my computer for this purpose?

No. You should not use department-licenced computer software on privately owned computers or laptops - and you should remove any such software, if it is on your computer. A licence fee is payable by the department for every authorised user of departmentally provided software. Moreover, the department cannot monitor whether such software is being used solely for official purposes. Under the APS Code of Conduct and the standard LES Code of Conduct, staff must not make improper use of their duties, status, power or authority to gain or seek to gain a benefit or advantage for themselves or others.

Staff who need to work from home from time to time may arrange to borrow a departmental laptop with the appropriate software. Guidance on borrowing and using departmental laptops can be found in Administrative Circular P0566.

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Departmental Policies on Appropriate Use of Official Resources

7.2.5 Departmental policies on appropriate use of official resources are found in a range of departmental policy documents, located under "Corporate" then "Manuals" on the Satin Low Welcome Page. They include:

IT Policies

The appropriate use of Commonwealth resources (money and public property) in the department is also governed by the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act)

Case Study — Appropriate Use of Internet

I often go on-line at work to check my private e-mail, follow the local news and pay bills. I don't spend too much time on the internet on any given day, but is there a limit to how much time I'm allowed to spend on the internet for private purposes?

The internet is a tool available to staff for official business. Under the department's Acceptable Use Policy on the internet, the use of the internet for private purposes is permitted within reason. There is no set time limit - the department relies on the professionalism and good judgment of its staff. But in general terms, use of the internet for private purposes must not affect or conflict with your official duties; it must not be excessive (for example, all-day online share trading); and it must not involve commercial "for-profit" activities. The department's network bandwith and storage are limited. So internet use for private purposes must not consume these limited resources frivolously (for example, sending mass mailings or chain letters, playing online games or downloading large video or audio files). And of course, the internet must not be used to transmit or access material which is illegal, may be offensive to others or may damage the reputation of the department.

Leave in Conjunction with Official Short-Term Travel

7.2.6 The department allows staff to apply for recreation leave to be taken during the course of official short-term travel. In allowing staff to do so, the department seeks to avoid perceptions that staff have arranged official travel to facilitate private leave; to ensure that staff are not seen to be deriving a benefit from their duties, status, power or authority; and to maintain equity in conditions of service so that staff who travel as part of their work do not, in effect, gain additional leave fares not available to their colleagues.

7.2.7 To address these public accountability, ethical and equity considerations, the department applies a "20 per cent rule" to recreation leave associated with official short-term travel. Staff undertaking official short-term travel may apply to take recreation leave during the course of the official travel for up to 20 per cent of the number of days of official travel, rounded to the nearest whole day. For example, if a staff member is on a short-term mission of eight working days, then he or she may apply for a maximum of two days recreation leave during the course of the official travel. (Calculation: 8 x 0.2 = 1.6, rounded up to 2.) If a staff member is on a short-term mission of only two working days, then he or she may not apply for recreation leave during the course of the official travel. (Calculation: 2 x 0.2 = 0.4, rounded down to 0.) Recreation leave is subject to management approval which should be sought prior to departure.

7.2.8 For the purpose of the "20 per cent rule", official days include all days when the staff member performs official duties on travel and all travel days to and from locations where official duties are being performed. Official days do not include weekends and public holidays spent at the location (unless staff are required to work or travel on those days) and any rest days allowed following long-haul flights. However, rest days in these circumstances are an occupational health and safety entitlement and are in additionto any recreation leave allowable under the "20 per cent rule".

7.2.9 The department's policies on travel and leave are set out in detail for APS employees in the Human Resources Manual and for LES employees in the LES Conditions of Service in place at each post.